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5 Ways to Dramatically Lower Your Home Energy Costs All Year Long

Utility bills? Ugh.

If you own a home or rent and pay your own utilities, you know it’s no fun shelling out money for these bills every month. Essential? Yes. Fun? Certainly not. Here are a few small adjustments you can make throughout your home that can save you a significant amount on your energy bill all year long (whether you live in Phoenix or Minneapolis).

1. Unplug, unplug, unplug. All year round, make sure to not only turn off appliances when not in use, but to unplug them as well. Computers, printers, cell phone chargers, and even toasters continue to use power when they are plugged in, even if they’re not in use. It’s a phenomenon called “standby power” or “leaking”, and it’s a real problem that can lead to real energy costs. So why pay for something you’re not using? No one is expecting you to unplug your refrigerator, but pay extra attention to small items like curling irons. While you’re pulling a few plugs before you leave the house, do a last minute walk-through and make sure all of the lights are off too.

2. Winterize your home annually. Make it a yearly ritual to check for cracks around any windows or drafts of air that could come up from the bottom of doors. If you have them, use fireplaces or woodstoves for warmth on occasion instead of turning on the heat—especially if you’re going to be watching a movie or reading near the fireplace anyway! There’s no need to stop using the heat completely, but avoid over-use by looking for alternatives. Small space heaters work well if you’re working in one room only.

3. Program your thermostat. You can buy a programable thermonstat for as little as $50…an investment that will probably pay for itself in a month or two in reduced heating or cooling costs. Just set the temperature several degrees down (for heat) or up (for AC) when you’re usually at work or school. If you’re renting and pay your own utilities ask your landlord for a programmable thermostat (even if you have to buy it and install it). It’s worth it.

4. Service your equipment. Getting oil and gas heating equipment serviced annually is a must for efficiency and safety, but don’t forget your AC, too. If you live in warmer climates and use an air conditioning frequently, servicing your AC unit could save you big bucks, as air conditioners lose efficiency as they run.

5. Track your consumption. If you’re going to try different things to reduce your energy costs, you’ll want to measure how effective those changes are. You might note your electric meter reading date and implement changes on or around the start of a billing cycle. You can use devices such as TED to track your power usage that you can connect to your breaker panel. It tracks your electricity consumption and reports the data to your smartphone.

Want to learn more about saving money on your energy bill? Call your local gas and electric companies. Many of them hold free community energy-saving classes; others will at least be able to send you some free literature with more energy-saving tips. You might also want to check about special programs with some companies such as increased energy allowances for those with medical needs, or discounted energy for those below a certain income limit.

Again, whether you live in Tucson or Tacoma, whether you own or rent, small changes can lead to big energy savings. Take action!

Published or updated on December 9, 2010

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About Sarah Davis

Sarah Davis is a real estate broker in San Diego, Calif. She enjoys helping both buyers and sellers and was voted one of the top 10 best real estate agents in San Diego in 2013 by Union Tribune readers. In her spare time she talks about real estate on a local radio show and manages her website


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  1. Dave Phone says:

    You can also turn your water heater way down. I turn it down to where, with the hot water tap turned all the way on, it is warm enough to take a shower with and nothing more. You can also try to be out of the house at peak demand times. I know people that work at nights during the winter just so they don’t have to heat their houses as much.

  2. Bishnu says:

    Luke is right, water heater blanket is a good addition.
    I used to do plumbing and I used to recommend that my customers turn down the valves under the sink to limit the water from coming out full force from the faucet in locations where you would not miss the extra pressure or rush of water.

  3. Luke says:

    You have some great ideas here. I would add putting a water heater blanket/insulator to your list.

    Thanks for the reminder about unplugging things. I am sure that my house is just wasting energy over Christmas with unnecessary items still plugged in.

  4. rick says:

    Inexpensive one-time costs that can save you thousands over the years.
    1) Attic ventilation – most houses have insufficient ventilation. Attic vents can run from $200-500 and reduce the load on your A/C system.
    2) Radiant Barrier – Reflective aluminum foil backed with paper or polymer that is stapled to the rafters of the house. Works great in summer and even holds some heat in winter, inexpensive if DIY. Watch our for contractors who will charge you thousands to install this inexpensive product
    3) Attic insulation – Blow in at least R40. Many houses have insufficent or no insulation at all up there.
    4) Skylights – $200-$400 each, and can save a lot of electricity, plus the natural light makes a house more inviting and perks up normally dark spaces like hallways or bathrooms.

  5. Mike says:

    I have read that anything with a physical on/off switch like a light uses no ‘vampire’ electricity.

    I have alot of stuff that does use the vampire electricity. Often times, users manuals will have a ‘standby power’ specification if it uses power when in standby mode.

    Usually it is only a couple of watts, so over the whole year it is only going to cost a few dollars.

  6. Those plastic covers for windows really work wonders for keeping cold air out.

  7. Matt says:

    Try energy efficient windows. I just installed mine and since I live in an apartment, I don’t have to turn the heat on with them in place. They are that good at retaining the heat. I also sleep better because they keep the are even better at muffling the outside noise. It requires a lot of money upfront, but it’s worth it in the long run. Some of them are even eligible for tax credits.

  8. Adam says:

    I would be careful with the space heater idea. When my first daughter was born, my wife and I decided to put a space heater in her room, so that we could keep the heat lower at night (we both prefer it chilly for sleeping). Anyway, the first month our bill came, I figured out it was cheaper to raise the thermostat up 3-4 degrees (natural gas furnace), rather than pay the electric rate to keep that one bedroom a few degrees warmer.

  9. Moneycone says:

    Another tip for the lazy! You could get timers that switch off at preset intervals and set it to turn off at night and automatically turn on in the mornings.

  10. Wil Possible says:

    My wife started unplugging all appliances that are not in use and yes that will save in utility. It is often the little leaks in our wallet that steals from us. Thank you for sharing this.

  11. Bishnu says:

    ^ I’m with you on that. I’m not going to spend $20 on something to tell me that I am saving $10 on something else. Unless I can use it and then return it because I have no more use for it which might be against some people’s honesty morals.

  12. Michael says:

    Well I said you could find them for $20 if you google around. I don’t know how long. If you have a killawatt you could calculate how long it would take to pay off.( But then again thats more money :)

  13. Bishnu says:

    ^ How long would that power strip take to make back up for the $39 that it costs to buy?

  14. Michael says:

    For #1 you could also use one of the following devices:

    You can find them as cheap as $20.

  15. Bishnu says:

    You can also replace light bulbs with new LED ones when they burn out. Those plastic covers for windows really work wonders for keeping cold air out. The ones that you cover the window with and use a hair dryer to shrink.

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